The following passage which defines Asiatic mode of production is from Eric Olin Wright's book, Class (1985, p 113):
The `Asiatic mode of production' (or oriental despotism) is a concept employed by Marx in an attempt to theorize the specificity of the class structure and social dynamics of the classic civilizations of China, Egypt and elsewhere. The central idea is that these civilizations combined powerful, centralized state apparatuses engaged in the construction and supervision of large scale irrigation projects (hence the expression `hydraulic civilization') with largely autarchic peasant communities. The result of this particular combination was that no dynamic social forces capable of producing qualitative transformations could be generated endogenous to the social structure. As a result, these societies were doomed to perpetual stagnation, to a continual, if not necessarily always peaceful, reproduction of their essential class structure.
Eric notes that:
Recent discussions have largely discredited the idea that what is called the Asiatic mode of production is indeed a proper `mode' of production. nevertheless, it is still generally acknowleged that there is a distinctive gestalt in the social structures of these societies which gives their class structures and class conflicts a particular character. For critiques of the concept, see in particular, Perry Anderson, Lineages of the Absolutist State, London, 1974, and Barry Hindess and Paul Q. Hirst, Pre-Capitalist Modes of Production, London, 1975. For a general collection of essays exploring the problem, see Ann M. Bailey and Josep R. Llobera, The Asiatic Mode of Production: Science and Politics, London, 1981. For an interesting and important discussion of Marx's view on the problem, see Theodor Shanin, Late Marx and the Russian Road, New York 1984. [Class, p 113/132.]